NBA 2K6 was great, NBA 2K7 was great, NBA 2K8 was great, and--you guessed it--NBA 2K9 is great as well. Key additions such as more frequent roster updates and the ability to play five-on-five online are relatively minor and will probably appeal mainly to hardcore hoopsters, but thanks to time-tested gameplay and a mind-boggling number of play modes, NBA 2K9 is rock solid yet again.
One year 2K Sports is going to get free throws just right. Maybe next year.
Let's start with what's new...or kind of new. Living rosters are frequent updates you can download throughout the season to make sure your rosters are up to date. All decisions on rosters and ratings are made by a single person known as the 2K Insider. At the time of this review only one roster update had been released, and it consisted solely of roster moves. But if things go as planned, roster moves are just one way living rosters will affect the game. If a player is on a hot streak, for instance, the Insider will bump up his ratings accordingly until he cools off; if a rookie turns out to be a ridiculous dunker, the living rosters will be updated to reflect his prowess. Nobody's ever going to say that up-to-date rosters aren't a good thing, but as far as being touted as the game's biggest feature, living rosters are underwhelming.
This year's gameplay remains top-notch. It's uncanny how closely the video game mirrors the real NBA at times. Players will fight through screens, dive for loose balls, come flying out of nowhere to tip in a rebound, and show emotion after a big play. Provided you're not moving around too much, your teammates will move around and do a decent job of making themselves open. However, if you're dribbling quickly around the court, your players tend to stand and watch. If your teammates aren't running the floor properly, you can call out a specific play with just a few button presses. You'll want to call plays to get your teammates involved, because it's tough to score on your own and the defense adapts quickly to cheesy tactics such as going to the rim and passing in midair. In fact, the AI is quite adept at recognizing patterns and shutting them down. You might not notice this when playing lousy teams such as the Heat or the Thunder, but it's very apparent when you're playing a team like the Celtics.
Casual players may have difficulty figuring out how the gameplay has changed since last year. There are, in fact, a number of improvements, though their effect on gameplay is generally modest. Fewer shots are taken from behind the backboard, and you're less likely to step out of bounds, too. Missed layups, while still a bit of an issue, occur significantly less often than before. It would be nice if taller players exercised more authority down low and dunked rather than putting up two-foot bank shots, but at least they don't miss too many gimme shots this year. Lock-on D was overpowered in 2K8--Shaq could guard Chris Paul with ease--and that's not the case in 2K9. Locking on to a defender and then sticking to him with the right analog stick is effective without being cheap.
There are more signature player animations than ever.